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A Technology of Multiple Smelting Furnaces per Termite Mound: Iron Production in Chongwe, Lusaka, Zambia
Journal of African Archaeology  (IF),  Pub Date : 2020-04-27, DOI: 10.1163/21915784-20200004
Edwinus C. Lyaya, Shadreck Chirikure, Philip E. Janney, Thilo Rehren

With exception of Maluma (1979) and Musambachime (2016, 2017), there have been no archaeometallurgical publications on the technology and culture of iron production in Zambia. This paper presents archaeological and archaeometallurgical evidence of a technology of iron production in Chongwe in terms of spatial organization, the process of metal production (either a three-stage process involving smelting in relatively tall furnaces, refining in miniature (vintengwe) furnaces, and smithing on a hearth or a two-stage process involving smelting and smithing), furnace air supply mechanisms, liquid slag handling techniques, variation in the geochemistry of ore and clay, and the nature of the final smelting products. Archaeological field data collection techniques included ethnoarchaeological interviews, (furnace) excavation, surface collections, and surface walkover surveys, while laboratory analytical techniques included optical microscopy (OM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and x-ray fluorescence (XRF). New field evidence indicates that iron production in Chongwe in the previous two centuries was secluded from respective pre-modern settlements for socio-cultural and technical reasons. There are no settlement remains in and around Chongwe smelting sites. Also, most of the archaeological data in Chongwe are supportive of the two-stage process that did not involve iron refining in vintengwe furnaces. There were no iron refining sites in Chongwe. Archaeological evidence also strongly points to the use of natural air supply mechanism for the smelting furnaces because proximal ends of tuyères inter alia were not trumpeted. All smelting sites were systematically located on termite mounds. There were three to four smelting furnaces located on the western side of a termite mound. The presence of tuyère mould slags and thin and elongated slag microstructures strongly indicates that liquid slag was tapped outside the furnace apparently through tuyères and was left to cool quickly. Presence of primary wüstite and iron particles in the slags strongly suggests the production of iron as the final smelting product in Chongwe. The results are compared with the archaeology, chemistry, and mineralogy of iron production from other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the Lake Tanganyika-Nyasa Corridor. The presence of three to four smelting furnaces per termite mound makes iron production in Chongwe a unique technology in the Corridor.